The end is nigh for Victoria’s Secret.
Last week, rumors began to circulate that Leslie Wexner, the founder and CEO of L. Brands—the parent company of Victoria’s Secret and Bath and Body Works—was in talks to sell the lingerie brand, which has been in decline for years. But then, over the weekend, the New York Times ran an exposé about the culture of misogyny at Victoria’s Secret.
L Brands has since quietly changed the imagery on its investor website from a picture of Victoria’s Secret models in their underwear to a photo of some candles and hand soap from Bath and Body Works. It’s yet another sign that L Brands wants to distance itself from Victoria’s Secret, which is increasingly being seen as a toxic asset.
For years, it’s been clear that Victoria’s Secret was stuck in the past. The brand seemed stubbornly stuck on creating catalogs, ads, and fashion shows with a porn-like aesthetic designed to appeal to men, rather than the women who would actually be wearing the underwear.
In the Times article, we get a glimpse at the inner workings of the company. The story centers on Ed Razek, a top executive at L Brands, who was perceived to be Wexner’s proxy. Razek allegedly used this power to get his way. According to the report, models alleged that he tried to kiss them, asked them to sit on his lap, and touched their bodies inappropriately before shows. Others said that when they rebuffed his sexual overtures, they were cut off from Victoria’s Secret and no longer invited to be part of photo shoots and events. (Razek denied any wrongdoing.)
This is just the latest news about the toxic misogyny at L Brands. Last year, there were reports about how Jeffrey Epstein, the convicted sex offender who committed suicide in prison, became entwined with Victoria’s Secret through his role as Wexner’s financial adviser. Epstein apparently used his position to lure some young women by posing as a recruiter for Victoria’s Secret models.
Now it seems that L Brands is eager to downplay its relationship with Victoria’s Secret, which generated $13.3 billion in 2018. The underwear company is still a giant in the retail industry, even though its revenues and profits have been declining for years. It’s unclear exactly what it will take to shed this lurid past and transform itself into a brand that will be appealing to today’s consumers. But whatever the case, it seems like it may not be L Brands’s cross to bear.
H/T: David Enrich